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Find out about the current PhD students at the Centre for Doctoral Training in Cybersecurity

2020/21 Cohort

From left: Daniel Blackwell, Gerard Buckley, Alexandros Efstratiou, Emmanouil Koulas, Ilaria Pia La Torre, Kart Padur

Cybersecurity cohort 2020-2021

Alexandros Efstratiou

My studies in psychology and behavioural science intrigued me in the ease with which people’s decision-making can be shaped by their physical and social surroundings. I was drawn to the interdisciplinarity of the CDT to apply these insights in understanding online socio-political polarization, misinformation, and proliferation of conspiracy theories.

Think of the Great Pyramid of Giza (the largest of the Pyramids in Egypt). Without Googling, would you estimate that it is made up of more than 50,000 stone blocks, or less? Based on your answer to the previous question, can you provide an estimate of roughly how many stone blocks it is made of?

Unless you already knew the answer, your estimate was probably a 5-digit figure because you implicitly thought the answer had to be something close to 50,000. In reality, the pyramid in question is made up of roughly 2.3 million stone blocks. Most people tend to anchor their judgments to oft unrelated contextual cues in one of many cognitive biases known as the anchoring effect.

A wide array of similar implicit biases is at play when people interpret information, meaning that various informational features such as its framing, presentation, and surroundings, and not just its content, can shape people’s opinions. The disproportionate spread of misinformation, or the deviation of public opinion from scientific consensus, may be attributable to such biases.

Previous work I conducted revealed how pre-existing beliefs can motivate people to underestimate the risks of the COVID-19 virus, or how arbitrary allocations into social roles can affect the acceptability of inclusion policies. My PhD research, supervised by Prof Emiliano de Cristofaro and Dr Tristan Caulfield, similarly looks at widespread misinformation and social polarization from the lens of social and cognitive psychological findings on biased decision-making. 

Specifically, I study the economically irrational behavior predicted by prospect theory in interpreting information and examine how identification with different social groups can exacerbate this. Through this work, I aim to holistically examine the effectiveness of proposed, rationally grounded interventions such as diversifying informational networks, and to develop frameworks for taking into account non-normative decision-making.
I am always open to collaborations or to discussing what I do in more detail. If you are interested in my work, please feel free to get in touch!

Maria Corte Real Santos

I am a Doctoral Student at UCL’s CDT in cybersecurity, with a focus on cryptography. Having completed a Master’s degree in Mathematics at the University of Cambridge, I’ve decided to change fields and move into Cyber Security.

During my degree, I did a research project on Ethics in Maths, where I studied the Logjam attacks and the Cambridge Analytica scandal in depth. I was also a regional finalist for Barclay's Local Genius Challenge where I developed my idea to build an app to remove the need for paper receipts. During this, I discovered the importance of effective online security against hackers in order to protect users who have entrusted their information with a company. Both these experiences inspired me to shift into Cyber Security. 

The breadth of the topics explored in the CDT program at UCL has allowed me to gain a greater knowledge on all aspects of cyber security. Whilst I have really enjoyed this rich variety of courses, due to my background in Number Theory and Algebra, I am particularly interested in learning about how mathematical concepts can be used to develop robust cryptosystems.

Currently, my main research focus is post-quantum cryptography, specifically isogeny-based protocols. This has seen a recent surge in research and this year NIST announced that one of the alternate candidates for public-key encryption and key-establishment algorithms in the third round of their Post-quantum Cryptography standardization is SIKE: a protocol based on isogenies. My research aims to tackle some problems with isogeny-based protocols and apply them to cryptographic structures, such as blockchain. To see more of what I’ve been working on, visit my website.

Gerard Buckley

I have come full circle. I studied Engineering Science over 40 years ago, was attracted to the business world, and now have returned to my roots and the Cybersecurity PhD programme. My interests lie in privacy protection in the face of ever more intrusive surveillance capitalism and what people can do to take back control. I was attracted to this programme because of its interdisciplinary nature.

I have always enjoyed getting to grips with new technologies, understanding their market potential and then translating that into profitable business products and services. Having completed the MSc in Information Security at UCL this year, I am more aware than ever how our personal data is being harvested in ways most people do not realise. Hence, I am interested in studying technical and non-technical i.e. regulatory measures that go some way to rebalance the asymmetry of power between the common man and big technology.

In addition to a MA, MAI in Engineering Science at Trinity College Dublin, I also hold an MBA from CASS Business School, City - University of London. My career follows the path of many engineers in that having worked as a software and hardware developer after graduation, I soon moved into marketing and sales in information-intense industries, then director-level management and eventually into general management. I founded a global data business at The London Metal Exchange, was CEO of a financial information services group that successfully floated on the London Stock Exchange and been CEO of a series of hi-tech start-ups based in London and Cambridge.

Dan Ristea

After seven years as a software engineer, I developed a keen interest in privacy enhancing technologies. Privacy exists at the intersection of policy, ethics, and technology, so I was drawn to UCL's Centre for Doctoral Training in Cybersecurity for the unique blend of disciplines which I considered a great environment to pursue privacy-related research. My current focus is validating privacy guarantees and I am advised by Dr Steven Murdoch and Dr Enrico Mariconti.

My background is in Computer Science and Software Engineering. I graduated with a BSc (Hons) Computer Science from the University of Edinburgh and went on to work in various Software Engineering roles at internet-focused companies. Working in industry, I saw the practical challenges of implementing the policies and regulations that govern personal data. I also saw privacy come to the forefront of public discourse. I undertook a MSc in Information Security at UCL to delve deeper into the topic.

I strongly believe that privacy is fundamental to human dignitiy and is a requirement for a just society. Regulations, such as GDPR, and algorithms, such as differential privacy, have been developed to protect private data but, ultimately, privacy hinges on correct implementations. Through my research, I want to find ways to evaluate and validate the implementations of systems that provide private access to data and to create tools that allow developers to find and eliminate issues that may compromise the theoretical security guarantees of differential privacy.

Emmanouil Koulas

I am a PhD researcher in the Centre for Doctoral Training in Cybersecurity at University College London, under the supervision of Irina Brass. My research focuses on the decision-making processes regarding the regulation of internet security.

I hold a BA in International and European Studies and an MA in International Public Administration from the University of Macedonia, Greece, and an MSc in Data Science from the International Hellenic University, Greece.

It is really exciting being part of UCL's CDT in Cybersecurity team. The very existence of the CDT in Cybersecurity, in its interdisciplinary nature, highlights the necessity for interdisciplinary approaches in addressing wicked cybersecurity challenges. Cooperating with a cohort of fellow students that come from diverse background and skillsets, significantly enhances the PhD experience, and challenges beliefs in a constructive way.

My research aims to map the decision-making processes in organizations and institutions that regulate internet security, identify good and bad practices, and offer a framework to policymakers to establish effective decision-making processes.

Daniel Blackwell

I studied in the UCL MEng Computer Science course from 2014-2018, during the first 2 years of which I worked freelance on various iOS and Android apps; though as time went on this is something that began to appeal to me less and less.

I spent my 3rd year studying abroad at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, which gave me the opportunity to focus my studies on lower level programming, computer architecture and hardware design languages. Following on from this, in 2017 I spent 5 months working in the Arm CoreSight debug and trace team, researching ways to improve bitstream compression for the storage of instruction trace. In the 2 years following my graduation in 2018 I went on to work as a software developer in a startup supplying real-time medical monitoring to world motorsports series, where I was writing bespoke firmware, designing secure wireless data transmission protocols, as well as writing client side libraries to retrieve the wirelessly transmitted data.

Here in the CDT, my research will be focused on identifying information leaks in software.

Stefanos Evripidou

I am a PhD student at the Cybersecurity Centre for Doctoral Training at UCL, supervised by Professor Jeremy Watson, Professor Steve Hailes and Dr Uchenna Ani. My research is centered around the application of socio-technical theory to the security of Cyber-Physical systems.

Before joining the CDT I was a student at UCL, where I graduated with a Meng in Computer Science, specializing in Information Security in 2020. What attracted me the most to the CDT was its interdisciplinary approach combining both technical and social approaches to Cybersecurity.

My research interests include the application of AI in improving the security of CPS systems, and how to take into consideration the inherently social aspect of such systems to better inform their security. Some examples are the modelling of AI systems that include social attributes and the integration and subsequent evaluation of AI systems into CPS systems under a socio-technical perspective.

Ilaria Pia La Torre

I am a PhD Student in Cybersecurity at UCL's CDT under the supervision of Dr David Clark, Dr Enrico Mariconti and Dr Jens Krinke. I graduated in Italy, from the University of Molise, with a BSc degree in Computer Science in 2016 and with a MSc degree in Security of Software Systems in 2019. My interest in the research and in the Privacy and Security areas strengthened during my Erasmus traineeship experience at UCL, in 2018, where I worked on a my MSc dissertation project focused on Information Flow and Fairness testing relating to social networks entitled “Gender Discrimination and Privacy Violation on Twitter”.

On that occasion I was strongly attracted by the stimulating, professional and world-renowned UCL’s research environment, so I felt that it would have been the perfect context in which to give my best, express my problem-solving proneness, steadily feed my passion for the Computer Science and Security field and test my skills in order to extend my knowledge and my future perspectives together with the possibility of feeling fulfilled by a job that allows me to contribute to the progress and to the human life safety.  

Being part of the CDT in Cybersecurity represents a unique opportunity of collaboration to face the interdisciplinary challenges of cybersecurity working in a close-knit environment that allows to share knowledge and learn from experts from different fields.

My PhD research is designed as an extension of my MSc dissertation work and concerns the objective investigation of possible causality in large-scale black box heterogeneous systems with the aim to provide a general method able to detect and describe hidden behaviours of such systems, valid in disparate application contexts from Information Leakage to Unfairness to Image processing and other.

Kart Padur

I am a PhD candidate at the Cyber Security CDT supervised by Prof Stephen Hailes and Dr Hervé Borrion. I am currently focusing my research on how to identify, assess and evaluate hybrid threats.

During my master studies in a joint Cyber Security program of Tallinn University of Technology and University of Tartu, I understood that cyber security is not only a technical subject, instead, core skills and knowledge are relevant to be acquired across various areas. I applied to the Cyber Security CDT as it offers strong multidisciplinary training which is important to be successful in the field.

Before joining the Cyber Security CDT, I spent a few years in the industry. I was part of an operational risk team in a major bank conducting research on the topic of cyber risk assessment of outsourcing. After, I worked in a fast-growing cyber security company where I focused my research on the human aspects of cyber security risk. I think this experience advanced my understanding of the problematic areas and opportunities that the field of cyber security offers. Continuing my studies as part of the Cyber Security CDT at UCL is a fascinating opportunity for me.

Although everything is currently conducted online, I am amazed how supportive and helpful are my supervisors, the members of the cohort and everybody related to the program. Despite being away from London, I still feel part of the community.


2019/20 Cohort

From left: Niamh Healy, Sergi Bray, Antoine Vendeville, Antonis Papasavva, Henry Skeoch, Hawra Milani, Arianna Trozze 

Cyber security students
Phil Demetriou

I am a Doctoral Student in the Center for Doctoral Training in Cybersecurity at University College London, advised by Prof Stephen Hailes and Dr Ingolf Becker and funded by the EPSRC. My research concerns anomaly and intrusion detection in the context of cyber-physical systems and critical infrastructure.

My research interests lie in Systems Security, Machine Learning and Distributed Systems and my prior industrial engagements include projects in link analysis, data aggregation, anomaly detection, semantic modelling, post-quantum cryptography and Byzantine Fault Tolerant protocol design.

Beyond my doctoral research, I organise the weekly UCL Computer Science Hacking Seminar and serve as postgraduate teaching assistant for COMP0016 Systems Engineering and SECU0043/SECU0049 Cybercrime.

Henry Skeoch

I was attracted to the Cyber Security CDT by the strong multidisciplinary training elements it contains and the opportunity to acquire structured knowledge across the various fields associated with cyber security alongside pursuing a PhD in one of the UK’s leading Computer Science Departments.

Being part of a cohort of students with diverse backgrounds and interests also greatly enhances the overall experience and creates a real sense of community as well as bringing a deep set of perspectives to the academic challenges we encounter.

My research aims to combine the established field of insurance economics with the newer area of security economics, with the goal of developing models able to offer useful practical insights into cyber insurance markets. Organisations and individuals are increasingly facing a rapidly evolving threat from activities in the cyberspace domain that have the potential to cause severe damage to information technology equipment and/or loss of confidential data, potentially incurring significant economic costs.

This has created a natural demand base for cyber insurance, but the market is underdeveloped especially outside the US. Many important related questions, such as whether cyber attacks are classified as an act of warfare and how to systematically model cyber attacks, present exciting research opportunities.

Prior to joining the Cyber Security CDT, I was employed as a Research Analyst for a major global investment bank focusing on interest rate and inflation markets, which followed an MSc in Finance from Imperial College Business School. Before changing paths to Finance, I was originally a Scientist graduating with an MSci in Natural Sciences (Chemistry) from the University of Cambridge with a final year project focused on Chemical Informatics, specifically systematic extraction of information regarding current research activities.

Hawra Milani

After spending the beginning of my career in computer hardware engineering, I moved to software engineering during my university years, and then made a career change into education, where I trained to teach computer science in secondary schools.

Through that experience, I realised the lack of girls entering the field and the effects this was having on future generations, and thus decided to focus my studies in 'gender in computing'.

I went on to study a Masters in Computing Education at King's College, which also involved a level of research on cyberbullying in schools, and its effects on students' wellbeing. This interest pushed me to combine my knowledge and experience in computing and education to follow up with a PhD in Cyber Security.

I am really happy to be part of UCL's CDT in Cyber Security, where I feel supported in an environment where all backgrounds are celebrated, and that I am able to use my research skills to contribute to an interdisciplinary atmosphere, knowing I will always have experts in a variety of fields guiding me throughout my research projects.

The title of my PhD thesis is: "Using Machine Learning and Natural Language Processing to automatically detect cyberbullying within educational institutions in order to predict and prevent such occurrences."

A summary: Bullying affects millions of children throughout the world each year. The Department for Education states that in the UK alone, 1 in 6 children aged 10-15 have reported being bullied, and 7% of these children have experienced some form of cyberbullying and cyberthreats made to them.

Automatic cyberbullying detection is a task of growing interest, particularly in the Natural Language Processing and Machine Learning communities. As a result, it can be used to prevent individuals from receiving harmful online content in social networks, therefore aiding in the reduction of the incidence of cyberbullying.)

Antoine Vendeville

I graduated and proceeded to complete a Master’s degree in mathematics in France. I did two research internships on the mathematical modelling on social networks and developed a keen interest on the subject. I was then eager to conduct deeper research in that area, and the CDT Cybersecurity gave me the perfect opportunity to do so.

I applied for a PhD project regarding fake news propagation and was very happy when I got accepted. I now have the chance to be working on the topic that drives my interest, in a prestigious academic environment under the guidance of top-world researchers.

My PhD project revolves around the question: How may a group of user be able to prevent sufficiently in time the spreading of some undesirable piece of content among them?

As Online Social Platforms have gained a lot of importance over the past years, I aim to develop mathematical methods to describe how users of such platforms form their opinions and influence one another.

We are in dire needs of such analysis as social media have quickly become part of our everyday lives, and users regularly find themselves to be the target of malicious attacks: fake news, illegal advertising campaigns, bot invasions and more.

The goal of my research is to give us a better understanding on the social structure and opinion dynamics in these networks, which could in turn help us prevent such episodes.

Arianna Trozze

I am a PhD researcher at UCL’s CDT in cybersecurity, focusing on financial crime. My academic and research experience has primarily centred on international policy and human geography, with a particular emphasis on environmental policy and international information and communication technology (ICT) policy.

I completed my master’s thesis at the University of Oxford in 2015 on deliberative democracy and international ICT policy and my honours undergraduate thesis at Franklin University Switzerland in 2014 on ICT policies across Latin America.

During and following my master’s degree, I worked for the United Nations International Telecommunications Union in Geneva, focusing on digital inclusion initiatives and policies. After working in international policy for approximately a year, I found myself more interested in the enforcement arena and joined an international litigation firm.

As a legal analyst, I assisted lawyers on government enforcement defence and international judgment enforcement matters. I later joined the company’s corporate strategy department as the product manager for internal investigations and monitorships and asset forfeiture defence. My roles at this company sparked my deep academic interest in financial crime and money laundering research.  

My PhD research involves detecting and prosecuting financial crime involving cryptocurrencies. My project will adapt data science-based fraudulent transaction detection methods used in traditional financial services to the cryptocurrency market and demonstrate how they can be used to effectively prosecute financial crimes involving cryptocurrencies.

The results of this project will provide a roadmap for prosecution of these offences, as well as an empirical basis for policymakers to develop evidence-based legislation surrounding digital currencies worldwide. It will also enable innovation, facilitating the entry of conventional financial services companies into the cryptocurrency arena by providing a method for conducting due diligence on these transactions in the absence of accepted anti-money laundering processes.

Niamh Healy

I began my university education studying Law with International Law. A year abroad at the University of Leiden exposed me to the field of international relations and I realised this where my real academic interest lay. After I graduated from my BA, I began an MA in National Security Studies with King’s College London’s War Studies department. 

Following this MA I worked for a small consultancy working on different security issues, mainly nuclear non-proliferation. While working here I became interested in the international political aspects of cyber security, particularly how cyber security issues affect nuclear order and other nuclear weapons issues.

It’s exciting to join the Centre for Doctoral Training, especially as someone from a non-technical background. I’m really enjoying learning from and with my cohort about all aspects of cyber security. 

My research approaches the question of cyber from an international relations perspective. I was originally focused on how ‘cyber’ was affecting how we make sense of nuclear weapons internationally (‘global nuclear order’) but I am increasingly interested in how ‘cyber’ is affecting how we make sense of international order generally, with specific reference to the English School. I am particularly interested in global governance on cyber, including the UN’s new Open-Ended Working Group as well as other bodies like the UN Group of Governmental Experts and the Global Commission on the Stability of Cyberspace.

Antonis Papasavva

I am a PhD Student under the supervision of Prof Emiliano De Cristofaro. In 2016 I received my BSc degree in Computer Science from Frederick University of Cyprus where my research was in the fields of robotics, unmanned surface vehicles, and autopilot software systems.

The work and efforts of my BSc research resulted in two IEEE publications. 

In 2019 I received my MSc degree in Data Science and Engineering from the Cyprus University of Technology. During my studies at the Cyprus University of Technology my research focused on device-centric authentication, federated identity management, cyber safety, and the detection and characterization of inappropriate content online. I have demonstrated experience with working on EU-funded projects. Specifically, I took over highly responsible roles and actively contributed to ReCRED, CONCORDIA, and ENCASE projects. Part of the research I conducted during my MSc studies is published in one of the most influential conferences on Social Media Measurement: AAAI CWSM.
 
Currently, my research focuses on the characterization and detection of racism, misogyny, and other types of discriminating behaviour in mainstream and non-mainstream online social networks, large scale data processing, and deep learning networks.

Sergi Bray

When I tell someone that I completed a BA (/MA Ox) in Classics – that is, Ancient Greek and Latin literature, language, and philosophy – before taking on an MSc degree in Computer Science, I usually get a quizzical eyebrow or two. What does Plato have to do with Python? What do the humanities have to offer the sciences, and vice versa?

My response is, invariably, everything – and in both directions. Technology is in effect a toolkit. The tools do not act on their own: humans can pick them up and use them, and it is from this that any boon or harm will come.

Humans can use tools to do great things: to save lives, to explore new dimensions, to make the world a safer place. In attempting to reach these goals, however, a split often occurs due simply to the continuation of a tradition in which study is boxed into distinct disciplines – a tradition which has been useful but which in a growing array of domains is no longer valid. The extent to which technology has involved itself in humanity’s everyday life means that there are urgent problems in this joining of science and humanity. Many of these problems end up under the umbrella term “cybersecurity”, simply for the reason that technology has met humanity in a way that endangers any elements of society ranging from the international to the private and personal.

Being lucky enough to find a Centre for Doctoral Training that shares my mindset, and to get onto its PhD programme, I am eager to waste none of the opportunity that I have been given. Problems abound at this intersect between disciplines: I will be focusing on an emergent technology whose meeting with humanity will resonate across innumerable domains. A “Generative Adversarial Network” is a type of Machine Learning invented in 2014 which has since catalysed the development of “talking head” synthesis, among other technologies, producing convincingly realistic fake media colloquially known as “deepfakes”. We have recently reached the stage at which this development threatens the trust that we currently place in visual and auditory evidence. Until now, it has been impossible or at least very costly to realistically fabricate, or to unnoticeably manipulate, such evidence. A great number of systems will be at risk due to this nascent technology, and protections need to be put into place as fast and as effectively as possible.

My PhD research will evaluate the threat that this technology poses via the UK’s systems of news propagation, and will attempt to propose low-cost technical solutions that would fix the problem in the right way, alongside work supporting policy proposals that would implement such solutions. A clue to understanding what “the right way” will be is the fact that the development of “deepfake detection” technologies will be an arms race in which we must assume that we are behind our opponent: this means that the only solutions will be found in ways that are relevant to the contexts of the domains that this threatens. The context of each case will be a different complex systematic blend of humanity and technology, which is part of what makes these problems such enjoyable and rewarding challenges.